Officials with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) say surveillance systems picked up one case of a variant flu virus (H3N2v). When a flu virus that normally circulates in swine is identified in people, it’s called a variant virus.
The patient reported no contact with swine during the week preceding illness onset, however a member of same household did report exposure to swine. The person was hospitalized and released. This is Nebraska’s first case of H3N2v. According to CDC, a total of 61 H3N2v cases have been reported so far in 2017 and 18 other states have reported H3N2v cases since December 2005.
“While it’s rare for flu viruses in animals to spread to people, it’s possible. The ability to identify such an event is part of what makes our influenza surveillance systems so successful,” Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS said. “This variant flu virus is genetically different than seasonal flu and in the recent past it has not easily spread person-to-person, but the symptoms and severity of illness are similar. As of now, we’re not seeing the conditions needed like person-to-person transmission that would make this virus a potential public health threat.”
Swine Influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that cause outbreaks in pigs. Signs of swine flu in pigs can include fever, coughing (barking), sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation, and not eating. Some pigs infected with influenza, however, may show no signs of illness at all.
Swine flu viruses do not normally infect people; however, sporadic human infections with these viruses have occurred. Human infections with H1N1v, H3N2v and H1N2v viruses have been detected in the United States.
Spread between pigs and people is thought to happen mainly when an infected pig (or human) coughs or sneezes and droplets with influenza virus in them spread through the air. If these droplets land in the nose or mouth, or are inhaled, that person (or pig) could be infected.
There also is some evidence that the virus might spread by touching something that has virus on it and then touching the mouth or nose.
A third way to possibly get infected is to inhale particles containing influenza virus. Influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs.
Most commonly, human infections with variant viruses occur in people with exposure to infected pigs (e.g., at a fair or at work). Illness associated with variant virus infection includes symptoms similar to those of seasonal flu. Most illness has been mild, but as with seasonal flu, hospitalization and death can occur. There have been documented cases of multiple people becoming sick after exposure to one or more infected pigs and also cases of limited spread of variant influenza viruses from person to person.